Law School Cleared to Accept GRE or LSAT

     TUCSON (CN) — The nonprofit that controls the LSAT law school admission test said that, “barring other substantial developments,” it will not punish the University of Arizona for its decision to accept the GRE graduate school entry exam from law school applicants.
     The University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law in February became the nation’s first law school to accept either the GRE or the LSAT from applicants.
     Marc Miller, Dean of the UA law school, said Monday that the decision to accept the GRE is one of several innovations the school has made to expand its pool of applicants. Miller said most law schools place too much emphasis on standardized test scores.
     “Why don’t we care about what impact you will have your society or how well will you serve your clients, or how much justice will you do, or will this be a rewarding profession, or will you serve people who otherwise are underserved — an issue that the profession repeatedly says is a fundamental goal?” Miller said in an interview.
     “Instead we have an admissions process to law school whose regulations and then whose applications — in this case the processes developed by LSAC — have us putting immense weight … on a prediction of just how quickly you’ll pick up legal reasoning, legal analysis and procedure, and how that will be reflected in your first-year grades. It’s crazy.”
     The decision inspired debate about the role of innovation in law school admissions.
     The UA said that a 2015 study by Educational Testing Service “demonstrated that, for students in Arizona Law’s JD program, performance on the GRE General Test is a valid and reliable predictor of students’ first-term law school grades, and so meets the American Bar Association’s Legal Education Standard for use in admissions to law school programs.”
     After comparing the GRE and LSAT scores of current UA students and graduates with their grades in law school, the study showed that the GRE’s assessment of verbal and quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing is just as good as the LSAT at predicting law school success, the school said.
     In response to the UA’s new policy, general counsel for the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), which controls the LSAT, notified the school in an April 4 letter that it may be violating the nonprofit’s rule that “substantially all of” a law school’s applicants take the LSAT.
     The letter said the LSAC would consider whether UA “is eligible to continue to be a member.”
     Viewing the LSAC letter as a threat to pull UA’s membership, 148 law school deans signed a statement last week urging LSAC President Daniel Bernstine to let UA “experiment,” and to change the bylaw requiring the LSAT. The deans said they would request a special meeting of the admissions council if it revoked UA’s membership.
     “We strongly urge that the Board of Trustees allow the University of Arizona to remain a member of the council,” the deans’ letter states. “Expelling it for this is unwarranted under the existing rules and sends a terrible message to law schools about experimentation in the admissions process. Also, as deans at ABA accredited law schools and members of the LSAC Council, we urge the LSAC Board of Trustees to modify the provision of LSAC Bylaws Article I, Section 1, which ‘requires that substantially all of its applicants for admission’ take the LSAT. The rule should be changed to allow experimentation with alternative tests.”
     In his response to the deans on Saturday, Bernstine said the LSAC’s intentions were “misunderstood.”
     “It is unfortunate that our recent inquiry about Arizona Law’s admission policies was misunderstood and characterized as a threat to the school and an obstacle to innovation and experimentation in legal education,” Berstine wrote. “This was not our intent. Simply put, this inquiry is not about the GRE or any other standardized tests. Rather, LSAC’s bylaws require member schools to meet and maintain certain membership eligibility criteria. We believe our invitation to Arizona Law to provide input was appropriate and necessary, given reports that Arizona Law no longer requires that any of its applicants take the LSAT, which on its face is in violation of our bylaw provision that member schools require that substantially all of their applicants take the LSAT.”
     Bernstine said that “barring other substantial developments, the board has decided to maintain the status quo of existing LSAC members for the time being.”
     Meanwhile, the Accreditation Committee of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar will review UA’s admissions policy, and “resolution of these issues may well impact LSAC’s membership requirements,” Bernstine wrote.
     LSAC spokeswoman Wendy Margolis said in an email: “As the letter states, we are not taking any action until the ABA reaches its conclusions.”
     Barry Currier, managing director of Accreditation and Legal Education ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, confirmed on Monday that the ABA’s accreditation committee will review the UA study on the GRE.
     “That review, as are most matters related to a law school’s compliance with accreditation standards, is a confidential matter under the rules of the law school accreditation process,” Currier said in an email.
     “The Council’s Standards for Approval of Law School require law schools to require applicants to take a valid and reliable admission test as part of the law school application/admissions process,” Currier wrote. “If that test is not the LSAT, then the law school must demonstrate that the test it allows is a valid and reliable test to assist the school in assessing an applicant’s capability to satisfactorily complete that school’s program of legal education.”
     Along with accepting the GRE and the LSAT, the UA has in recent years created a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in law, allowed students to take the bar exam in their third year, “globalized” its student body, and “emphasized experiential education,” UA’s Miller said.
     “The reason we are doing this, and the reason we have created a ton of other innovations … it’s all part of the big picture of what is happening in the profession and in education,” he said. “Our ability to engage in the conversation about why law, why legal education and where’s legal education going, has been transformed.”
     Miller said he’s not worried about the school being removed from the LSAC, as he has about three-quarters of the group’s members on his side and the UA’s kind of innovation is gaining ground in other law schools.
     “I can’t predict the future,” he said. “But I do know — and I was stunned by the reaction of my colleagues around the country — that LSAC is a member organization for the limited purpose of managing law school admissions, and since three-quarters of those members said, ‘Do not sanction Arizona … and if you do, change the rule,’ it’s the rule, not Arizona, that’s the problem.”
     Since the school began accepting the GRE in February, about 3 percent of applications have come in with GRE test scores rather than LSAT scores, said Assistant Dean Tracy Mueller.

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